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The JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: MAGNIFICENT AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS: FIRST SELECTION

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Eliot, Andrew—Bunker Hill
Autograph letter signed ("Andrew Eliot"), Pastor of the Northern Congregational Church in Boston, 3 pages, folio (11 3/4 x 7 1/4 in.; 299 x 184 mm), integral address leaf, Boston, 19–22 June 1775, to Isaac Smith Jr.  in London, providing an eyewitness acount of the Battle of Bunker Hill; some losses to margins and along folds, costing a few words, masterfully silked. Dark blue polished calf portfolio, upper cover lettered gilt.
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A highly accurate and detailed description of the Battle of Bunker Hill written just two days after the offensive. Throughout his narrative, Rev. Eliot demonstrates great compassion for both sides; his letter is a stark memento of the horrors of, as he terms it, Civil War. "According to your desire I write without ceremony to acquaint you with the state of things in Boston—You left us shut up & the people removing from the town as fast as they were permitted. I am told that more than nine-thousand are removed. Many more were preparing to follow but passes have been stopped for some time, so that thousands are detained who desire to go—among them I am one—I tarried purely out of regard to the Inhabitants who were left, that they might not be without ordinances to worship in the way which they chuse—It is perhaps too late to think of removing as all communication is at present stopped.

"The last Saturday gave us a dreadful specimen of the horror of civil war. Early on Saturday morning we were alarmed by the firing of Cannon from the Fort which is erected on Copp's Hill, & from the ships which lye in Charles River—Upon Enquiry it was found that the Provincials had been forming lines on a hill below the Hill in Charlestown, commonly called Bunker's Hill. This Entrenchment was calculated extremely well to annoy Boston & the ships in the harbour. About one o'Clock a large Body of the British troops set off from Boston to attack these lines—about 3 o'Clock the engagement began & lasted perhaps an hour, great part of the time the firing seemed incessant." About four in the morning of the 17th daybreak revealed the outlines of the redoubt the rebels had thrown up on Breed's Hill. It was visible to men aboard the British sloop Lively, who opened fire. At about the time indicated by Eliot, Howe moved 28 barges out of Boston with 1,500 troops and twelve guns. and landed unopposed on Moulton's Hill (to the right flank of Breed's Hill off the Mystic River). Firing at the redoubt were the 68-gun ship of the line Somerset, two floating batteries, and the Copp's Hill battery. The Charlestown Neck was covered by several gunboats and armed sloops and frigates.

"As the Provincials were up to the Chin entrenched, they made a great slaughter of the King's troops before they the Provincials retreated—How many were killed or wounded on the side of the Regulars—It was a new & awful spectacle to us, to have men carried thro' the streets groaning bleeding & dying—some of the best officers are taken off & some hundreds of the privates—The attack was commanded by Genl Howe—How the provincials have suffered is not yet known—nor indeed shall I pretend to give a particular account of this terrible scene ... Dr. Warren is among the slain. It is said he had the chief direction of the Defence ... Since this action the Kings Troops have taken possession of The Bunker's hill & fortified it.

"Amidst the carnage of Saturday the town of Charlestown was set on fire & I suppose every dwelling house & every public building is consumed till you have passed the passage to the mills & are come to the houses where Woods the baker dwelt. You may easily judge what distress we were in to see & hear Englishmen destroying one another & a town with which we have been so intimately connected all in flames." From their ships in the Charles River, the British had launched "tracers," a type of shell filled with combustibles and pierced with holes. In minutes fires were breaking out in Charlestown houses, and soon the whole town was ablaze.

"I forgot to mention that a few days before the action the Governor issued a proclamation offering pardon to all who would lay down their arms except Mr. Adams & Mr. Hancock ... Things have been pretty quiet since the above—we have no communication with those on the other side the water but can perceive that they are fortifying at Chelsea–Malden–Winter Hill–The Hills in Roxbury-Dorchester were not. Every inch of ground will be disputed. Can no way be found to accommodate those unhappy differences? ... The God of heaven preserve us," Eliot closes, "it is an inexhaustible source of comfort that the government of the world is just where it is."    

The JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: MAGNIFICENT AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS: FIRST SELECTION

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